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Two writers detained, dozens under guard as police attempt to prevent gathering

(PEN/IFEX) - The following is a 21 December 2007 PEN American Center press release:

Chinese Police Preventing Prominent Chinese Writers from Meeting in Beijing: Two Detained, Dozens More Under Guard Throughout City

Actions Target Chinese Members of PEN, International Writers Organization, and Other Independent Writers and Supporters Planning Gathering for Saturday Evening

Beijing, New York, December 21, 2007 - Chinese police have detained two writers and issued warnings and posted guards outside the homes of dozens of others to prevent the Independent Chinese PEN Center from holding an informal awards dinner tomorrow night in Beijing. Authorities have forced the hotel where the event was to take place to cancel the event and warned all invitees and dozens of their colleagues and supporters throughout the country against appearing for the dinner. Police guarding the homes of many members of the PEN Center and others who were planning to attend the event will reportedly remain on guard through the weekend, and the two detained writers, one a leader of the organization and the other a scheduled honoree at the event, are still in police custody.

The dramatic events began last week, when prominent members of the Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC) in several cities reported heightened police scrutiny. Shanghai writer, activist and prominent ICPC member Li Jianhong was placed under house arrest on December 14. The following day she and her father were taken first to the police station and then, in a practice common in Chinese law enforcement, to a hotel, where they are still being detained. Li, who was to receive this year's Lin Zhao Memorial Award, was reportedly informed that she had been arrested at the request of the Beijing Police Security Bureau's National Security Unit. She was told she will remain in detention until December 25 and that police were determined to prevent the dinner from taking place.

Today in Beijing, police fanned out across the city to do just that. The evening's other scheduled honoree, renowned poet and 2007 Freedom to Write Award honoree Liao Yiwu, was detained this afternoon and interrogated until police officers from his home city of Chengdu arrived to assume custody; they will be escorting him back to Chengdu tomorrow. Meanwhile, police guards began appearing at the homes of dinner organizers and invitees, many of whom also received phone calls warning them not to attend the program.

The Independent Chinese PEN Center has a membership of around 200 Chinese writers both inside and outside of China, including many prominent dissidents. It was formed in 2001 and has operated under close official scrutiny ever since. In 2004 it held its first awards ceremony in Beijing to honor outstanding literary writers and defenders of freedom of expression. Authorities warned the center against holding such an official event in the future, so the following year the center hosted an informal awards dinner, which was allowed to proceed under the watchful eyes of police. This year, however, a decision has clearly been made to block the event, which was to include leading writers and prominent human rights lawyers who have defended dissident writers, a move an ICPC representative suggests may be tied to increased pressure to suppress dissident activity in advance of next summer's Beijing Olympics.

Members of the Independent Chinese PEN Center reacted with shock and outrage to the events. "The freedom we are pursuing can never be blocked by any police operation," Zheng Yi, the President of ICPC, said defiantly today in Beijing.

For the release issued by the Independent Chinese PEN Center, see: http://pen.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/1860/prmID/172

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